Let’s begin with a simple word. Paraskevidekatriaphobia. It pops into my head in the manner words tend to sometimes. It means fear of Friday the 13th. For today, as I write this, is that magic day: the day when people refuse to fly, refuse to start a new job, refuse to get married or even have surgery. This leads to a loss of a few billion dollars around the world. But hey, we remain safe.
Avoiding 13 is not so difficult. Many buildings have no 13th floor, many apartments go from No 12 to 14 without any self-consciousness, and I have a friend who went from 12 to 14 without stopping for his 13th birthday. In France, I am told, you can hire a professional 14th man in case you happen to have exactly 13 people at dinner. Numbers are easier, or, to put it another way, maths is just simpler than English.
But Friday is difficult to manage in the western world. You can’t jump from Thursday to Saturday without feeling foolish. When the two – date and day – come together, however, it is not so much a day of ill luck as one where misfortune occasioned by other superstitions is held at bay.
Thus, Friday the 13th is the ideal day to let a black cat cross your path, open an umbrella indoors or walk under ladders. Nothing can go wrong because the two negatives cancel each other out. In fact, if you have a black cat, you can perform this experiment at home. Provided the cat doesn’t smash the crockery and the ladder doesn’t fall on your glass shelves, while the umbrella doesn’t poke your favourite uncle in the eye, you can have a great time.
In fact, you can even smash your mirror – on no other day can you do this – and not only will you not have seven years of bad luck, you might even have some spillover good fortune.
There is a pleasing ring to Friday the 13th that is missing in Monday the 11th or Saturday the 31st. A gap in my education is exposed by the fact that I don’t know what the opposite of Friday the 13th is. I mean, if there is a double whammy that brings you bad luck, surely there must be one that guarantees incredibly good fortune. I know seven is a lucky number. But I can’t find a lucky day of the week that is acceptable to all.
It’s up to us, now. So let’s settle on Tuesday the seventh as the lucky day, when airspace is crowded, surgery rooms are packed and so on. Yes, that date is as arbitrary as Friday the 13th. But it’s more fun.